Nicaragua: FIDH and CENIDH alarmed at presumed covid-19 deaths, 20 times higher than official figure

Press release
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Paris, Managua — FIDH and the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH) are extremely concerned about the lack of transparency and the deliberate attempt by the Nicaraguan government to minimise covid-19 deaths, while cases of infection and deaths from the virus increase exponentially in the country.

On 18 March, Nicaragua reported its first coronavirus case and, according to official figures from the Ministry of Health (MINSA), a total of 46 people have died from the virus to date. However, we are concerned that these figures do not accurately reflect the true picture, contradicting those presented by the Covid-19 Citizens’ Observatory of Nicaragua which has recorded more than 980 deaths from pneumonia and suspected coronavirus cases.

The Covid-19 Citizens’ Observatory, made up of a multidisciplinary team that carries out community epidemiological monitoring in the country, works with information provided by organisations, networks, relatives of people infected with the virus, and the general public, subsequently verifying and reviewing the quality of the information received.

FIDH and CENIDH believe that the information provided by the Covid-19 Citizens’ Observatory reveals the government’s negligence and failure to offer real, transparent and reliable data that can be used to measure the impact of the pandemic in the country.

The lack of transparency of the Ortega-Murillo regime belies a desire to obscure reality about people who have died from the virus and gives the false impression that the situation is not serious. This exacerbates the perception already cultivated by the government’s refusal to establish a national lockdown and continued calls for massive gatherings, exposing Nicaraguans to life-threatening risks.
Likewise, the government has ignored the various calls to take measures to contain the spread of the virus, made by Nicaraguan medical societies, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the United Nations, among others. Notably, the government has failed to respond to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)’s request to access the country to examine the situation and provide recommendations—amounting to an implicit rejection on the part of the government.

Given the increase in cases of covid-19 in the country and the saturation of the public and private health systems, 34 Nicaraguan medical associations issued a statement, immediately supported by CENIDH, in which they urgently call on Nicaraguans to join a voluntary “national lockdown”, and in which CENIDH president Vilma Núñez urges heeding this call, considering that it is an act of "legitimate self-defence, it is an act to defend our right to life" and promotes the campaign #YoApoyoAlGremioMédico (I support health care workers) y #YoMeQuedoEnCasa (I’m staying at home).

"We call on the Nicaraguan State to put in place measures that allow for an accurate and transparent count cases of infection and deaths from covid-19, ensuring the participation of and harmonious collaboration with citizens, medical associations and human rights organisations in the country."

Jimena Reyes, director of FIDH’s Americas desk

FIDH and CENIDH underscore that States must guarantee the right to life and health of all their citizens, including persons deprived of liberty, migrants in their territory, and exiles and nationals abroad. Of particular concern is the health of political prisoners with covid-19 symptoms and who, according to information from their relatives, have not received adequate medical attention.

Beyond the problematic figures, the actions of the Ortega-Murillo regime seem to instrumentalise covid-19 to continue silencing voices of political dissents and opposition. What’s more, threats harassment, and persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents continue. Medical personnel are being threatened for denouncing and criticising the handling of the pandemic and are obliged to modify causes of death in their epicrises to obscure the gravity of the situation. Members of the Nicaraguan Medical Unit have reported receiving death threats by telephone and being branded as "terrorists" and "murderers" for providing free guidance on the pandemic.

FIDH and CENIDH hereby reassert their numerous appeals to the government to comply with its duty to guarantee each and every one of Nicaraguans’ human rights.

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